Myths and facts about China’s “super soldiers”

Is China trying to replicate Captain America? That’s what American intelligence thinks. Moreover, the prospect of creating a developed military is not far off, and this is of interest to countries outside China.

Big budgets and the desire to stay one step ahead of their competitors allow the world’s armies to invest in innovation.

Scotch tape, for example, was the result of such a process. It was carried out in Illinois, USA, during World War II, at the suggestion of a factory worker whose sons fought in the navy.

Vesta Stoudt thought ammunition boxes lined with paper tapes would not be safe when her sons were under fire.

He was thinking of a waterproof tape. Although he did not receive the support of his directors, he succeeded in writing a letter to President Roosevelt: Roosevelt ordered the production of these new tapes.

Who knows if the military needs provided us with scotch tape?


“Actually, what we’re doing here is creating the Iron Man,” US President Barack Obama told reporters in 2014.

Although journalists laughed at this, Obama was serious: the US military has begun to work on a protective suit. In the promotional film for the costume, called Light Tactical Assault Operator Costume (Talos), bullets that hit the costume jumped without harming the soldier.

The initiative failed, and five years later the project was withdrawn. However, researchers hope that the parts developed during this period will be used in other projects.

The United States introduced Talos with this image

With a new technology called exoskeleton, armies aim to strengthen their troops.

Giving strength to soldiers is nothing new, armies have been strengthened since ancient times with new weapons, ammunition and training.

Today, however, it has the potential to strengthen its troops, move beyond giving them powerful weapons, and turn the army into a single entity.

In a speech in 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that “humanity can create something worse than a nuclear bomb.”

“He may think that people with certain characteristics were created. Not only in theory, but also in practice. This person can be a great mathematician, a great musician or a soldier. He can be a man who can fight without fear, without mercy. Regret or pain. . “

Last year, John Ratcliffe, a former director of US National Intelligence, took the business a step further with a big accusation against China:

“China has used members of the People’s Liberation Army to produce biologically stronger soldiers. It has carried out human experiments. There are no ethical limits to China’s ambition for power.”

For China, these statements were “a series of lies.”

Although the new director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, is reluctant to answer the question of whether he agrees with his predecessor, China poses a threat in many ways.

Although the Biden administration in the United States has set aside a significant part of former President Donald Trump’s policy, tensions with China remain part of US foreign policy.

Dreams and realities

The presence of super soldiers on the front is an attractive prospect for armies. Think of how a soldier endured pain, extreme cold, and sleep. But as the US Iron Man initiative has shown, technological limitations are making dreams a reality.

According to an article written by two U.S. academics in 2019 based on statements by Chinese military strategists, the Chinese military is actively exploring techniques such as genetic interventions, exoskeletons and human-machine collaboration.

One of the authors, Elsa Kania, is skeptical of Ratcliffe’s comments:

“While armies around the world are closely interested in the idea of ​​a super soldier, what can be done to the level of science today plays a limiting role for any actor who wants to make a new invention.”

Ratcliffe was talking about an experiment on an adult. Although it is possible to manipulate some adult genes, playing with the DNA of embryos is a more possible way to create mature superheroes.

Molecular genetics Dr. Helen O’Neill says the key question is not whether the technology is possible, but whether scientists are ready to use it.

“Technologies such as genome modification and its combination with assisted reproduction are becoming common practices in transgenetics and agriculture.

“But it’s not yet ethical to use these two together in humans.”

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In 2018, Chinese scientist Hi Jiankui took a groundbreaking step and announced changes in the embryos of twin girls that prevented them from becoming infected with HIV.

This caused a great deal of controversy.

This type of genetic modification is banned in many countries, including China.

Such an experiment can only be performed on embryos created as a result of artificial insemination, provided that they are destroyed immediately after the experiment and are not used to create babies.

Although Salam Jiankui defended his case against criticism, he could not avoid being sentenced for violating government rules.

Most of the people I interviewed for this article consider the Hi Jankui phenomenon to be fundamental in the field of bioethics.

Scientists claim that genetic changes give girls cognitive benefits in addition to HIV immunity.

Jankui made specific and precise changes in the twins’ DNA using Crispr technology. Crispr is a technology that allows you to extract some of the features in DNA and add new features to treat diseases, even hereditary diseases.

But how can the army use this?

Christophe Galichet, chief researcher at the Francis Crick Institute in London, says Crispr is a revolution, but with some limitations.

Similar to the find and replace feature in a Word document. You can find a text and replace it with another text, but text that is meaningful in one part of the document may be meaningless elsewhere:

“It’s not right to think that a gene can only have an effect.

“When you change a gene, you can make a person more muscular or breathe easier at higher altitudes. But you won’t know if it causes unwanted side effects, such as increased risk of cancer.”

It is difficult to determine exactly from which genes some traits are derived. For example, humans have more than one gene that affects their height.

We must not forget that these changed traits will be passed on to the offspring of that person.

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Some analysts see China’s initiatives as a response to US initiatives. The Guardian reported that in 2017, the U.S. military invested tens of millions of dollars in genetic technology for extinct invasive species, and United Nations experts warned that the technology could also be used in military applications.

China and the United States are not the only ones conducting research in these areas. The French army also received permission to work on “improved soldiers” and a report was prepared reflecting the ethical limits of this.

“We have to face the facts. Not everyone shares our conscience and we have to be prepared for what may happen in the future,” said French Defense Minister Florence Parly.

Genetics can make it easier for scientists to cope with extreme climatic conditions

Although scientists have been able to reliably improve the characteristics of individuals, their application in the military has its problems.

For example, can a soldier voluntarily decide to order a risky operation from the command chain? China and Russia have reportedly tested a coronavirus vaccine on soldiers.

Professor of Ethics at Oxford University. “The army exists not to protect the interests of soldiers, but to gain strategic advantages or to win a war,” says Julian Savulescu.

“There are restrictions you can apply to soldiers, but they are more than those that can be applied to a normal society.”

Prof. Savulescu says it is important for everyone to compare the risks and benefits of development:

“But of course the equation is different in the military. Individuals generally take risks, but they don’t see the benefits.”

Because soldiers are in a situation where they are facing death, there may be those who think that the changes that will increase their chances of survival will be welcomed.

But a professor at California Polytechnic State University. Patrick Lin says it’s not that simple:

“Military advances mean experimenting with your own citizens and risking their lives. We don’t know how well a soldier who has been subjected to military reinforcement will be protected.

“Unlike protection, you can be sent to more dangerous positions.”

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We won’t be able to see Captain America in the real world anytime soon, but we don’t know when surprise developments will occur.

Prof. “It’s hard to have ethical or democratic control over what’s going on in the military, because by nature armies work in a state of secrecy and secrecy to protect national interests,” Savulescu said.

“This is a very difficult issue from an ethical point of view. We have experienced such ethical difficulties in areas where science and medicine are more transparent.”

So what can or should be done to bring some rules into this area?

Prof. Lynn says technology with multiple uses poses a significant challenge.

“For example, exoskeleton work has been started to help the sick and walk the paralyzed.

This intelligently controlled exoskeleton enabled a paralyzed person to walk

Dotation Clinatec funds
This intelligently controlled exoskeleton enabled a paralyzed person to walk

“But this therapeutic invention can easily become a weapon. We do not know how to prevent it, because it is not clear how to regulate it.

“If we try to limit this, we may need to impose worrying restrictions on therapy research.”

Dr. China is already at the forefront of genetic research, and other countries are limiting it, O’Neill says.

“I think we are wasting time on ethical discussions instead of focusing on the realities of the field,” he said.

“We put a lot of energy into speculation and dystopia. Instead, we need to put our energy into real risks and applications in this area to better understand the technology, because it will and will be done elsewhere.”

“Only by continuing to investigate can we understand where this could go wrong.”

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